VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR - The First 4... (1969/71)
Van der Graaf Generator are an English progressive rock band, formed in 1967 in Manchester by singer-songwriters Peter Hammill and Chris Judge Smith and the first act signed by Charisma Records. They did not experience much commercial success in the UK, but became popular in Italy during the 1970s. In 2005 the band reformed, and are still musically active with a line-up of Hammill, organist Hugh Banton and drummer Guy Evans. The band formed at the University of Manchester, but settled in London where they signed with Charisma. They went through a number of incarnations in their early years, including a brief split in 1969. When they reformed, they found minor commercial success with The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other (released in early 1970 and their only album to chart in the UK), and after the follow-up album, H to He, Who Am the Only One (December 1970), stabilised around a line-up of Hammill, Banton, Evans and saxophonist David Jackson. The quartet subsequently achieved significant success in Italy with the release of Pawn Hearts in 1971. After several exhausting tours of Italy, the band split in 1972. They reformed in 1975, releasing Godbluff and frequently touring Italy again, before a major line-up change and a slight rename to Van der Graaf. The band split in 1978. After many years apart, the band finally united at a gig at the Royal Festival Hall and a short tour in 2005. Since then, the band has continued as a trio of Hammill, Banton, and Evans, who record and tour regularly in between Hammill's concurrent solo career. The group's albums have tended to be both lyrically and musically darker in atmosphere than many of their progressive rock peers (a trait they shared with King Crimson, whose guitarist Robert Fripp guested on two of their albums), and guitar solos were the exception rather than the rule, preferring to use Banton's classically influenced organ, and, until his departure, Jackson's multiple saxophones. While Hammill is the primary songwriter for the band, and members have contributed to his solo albums, the band arranges all its material collectively. Hammill's lyrics covered themes of mortality, due to his love of science fiction writers such as Robert A. Heinlein and Philip K. Dick, along with his self-confessed warped and obsessive nature. His voice has been a distinctive component of the band throughout its career, described as "a male Nico". Though the group have generally been commercially unsuccessful, they have inspired several musicians across various genres.
The Aerosol Grey Machine is the debut studio album by English progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. It was released in 1969 by record label Mercury. The album was originally intended as a solo album by the band's lead singer and main songwriter, Peter Hammill. When the band signed with Charisma Records, a deal was worked out whereby The Aerosol Grey Machine would be released under the Van der Graaf Generator name, in return for Mercury Records releasing Hammill from his earlier contract with it.
The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other is the second album by the British progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator, released in February 1970 on Charisma Records. It was the group's first album to be released in the UK and the only one to chart in the top 50 in that country. The songs on the album were mostly composed by group leader Peter Hammill but arranged and rehearsed by the whole band. The lyrics covered a variety of themes including relationships with friends, witchcraft and apocalyptic catastrophes, while the music ranged from ballads such as "Refugees" to unusual and aggressive playing on "White Hammer" and "After the Flood". As well as a brief commercial success, the album was well received by critics and continues to be praised.
H to He, Who Am the Only One is the third album by the British progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. It was released in 1970 on Charisma Records. The band recorded the album in several stages throughout mid 1970 in Trident Studios with producer John Anthony. The songs mentioned a killer shark in "Killer", lost love in "Lost" and science fiction material in "Pioneers Over c". Bassist Nic Potter left the group in August partway through recording, with organist Hugh Banton covering on bass guitar in the studio and playing bass pedals in concert. King Crimson's Robert Fripp made a guest appearance on guitar, and the cover was the first of several by the band to feature the artwork of Paul Whitehead. The album did not chart in the UK, and contemporary reviews were mixed, but it has since been regarded as a good example of progressive rock albums by critics. "Killer" has been singled out for praise as a fan favourite.
Pawn Hearts is the fourth album by English progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator, released in October 1971 on Charisma Records. The original album features just three tracks, including the side-long suite "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers". The album was not commercially successful in the UK, but reached number one in Italy. It has since seen retrospective critical praise and was reissued on CD in 2005 with extra material. The songs for the album were worked out while on tour in 1971, with further development and arranging at manager Tony Stratton-Smith's house in Crowborough, Sussex over a two-month period. The original plan had been to release more material, making up a double album, but Charisma vetoed the idea. A non-album single, "Theme One" was included on some releases in the US and Canada. The album's strong commercial showing in Italy resulted in a number of lucrative promotional tours there, but the resulting pressure led to the band's split in August 1972.
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